Pasig City (20 July 2020) – The implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) against COVID-19’s Phase II is gaining ground, as local government units ramp up their COVID-19 testing and contact-tracing capabilities, while the national government and private sector continue to forge partnerships to establish more testing laboratories across the country.
The NAP against COVID-19, which was approved by Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases early this month, seeks to create a balance between breathing life into the nation’s economy and at the same time, protect the health and welfare of Filipinos against the deadly virus.
“As we all know, we cannot afford to revert back to a nationwide lockdown. The National Action Plan Phase II’s main goal is to rehabilitate our economy and ensure that our health capacity can cope with the cases,” National Task Force against COVID-19 Chief Implementer and Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez, Jr said.
The NAP Phase II’s main objectives are to contain and manage new COVID-19 cases in high-risk areas; sustain the wins against COVID-19 and continue best practices; balance the nation’s health and economic welfare; localize COVID-19 response by rallying peoples’ support and participation, and keep a low fatality rate including non-COVID-19 cases
Galvez emphasized that the NAP’s second phase centers on “saving lives and mitigating the impact as one, towards economic and social recovery.”
The marked improvement in health conditions in areas across the country is a testament to the effective leadership shown by local government units, particularly in strictly enforcing quarantine guidelines and scaling up their testing capacities.
“Sa Cebu po we saw that there is an improvement. Nakikita natin na ‘yung ating cases ay bumababa at the same time, ‘yung death natin is bumababa rin ngayon (We saw that the cases are decreasing and at the same time, deaths are also in decline),” Galvez said.
One of the strategic goals of NAP Phase II is keeping the country’s fatality rate low, including non-COVID19 cases to ensure that all Filipinos with underlying health conditions are taken care of in public and private health facilities.
Scaling up testing, bed capacity
According to Galvez, the second phase of the NAP still puts primacy on beefing up the testing and tracing capacity of the country, as these will be the key in containing the further spread of the virus and mitigating its socio-economic impact on the population.
The plan is a multi-pronged approach. Its other objectives include the institutionalization of the “Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate” (PDITR) strategy and zoning concept, sustaining private and public partnerships, and enhancing risk communication and community engagement.
Moreover, the plan also focuses on highlighting the importance of business continuity and sustainability plans, the proper management of Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs) and local travelers, and raising the country’s expanded and targeted testing and contact tracing capability.
Galvez said that LGUs in the NCR and other parts of the country are demonstrating that localized approaches can be highly effective in fighting and mitigating the impact of COVID-19 in their localities.
For instance, in the National Capital Region (NCR), the first free “walk-in” COVID-19 testing center at the Ospital ng Sampaloc was opened, while a drive-thru testing center in Manila was inaugurated earlier this month.
In Taguig, the city’s testing capacity has increased to more than 1,000 tests per day, thanks to a partnership between the local government and Enderun Colleges.
Based on the COVID-19 Philippine Situationer report from the Department of Health (DOH), total tests conducted nationwide as of July 19 have reached 1,142,165, breaching the 1 million mark way ahead of the July 31 target the agency had set.
Galvez said that boosting the nation’s testing capacity has been one of the primary goals of the government since the onset of the pandemic. From a single testing center in March this year, the country now has a total of 89 RT-PCR and Genexpert laboratories.
He likewise noted that the treatment and isolation and quarantine facilities in the country have continued to increase under the leadership of Chief Isolation Czar and Secretary of Public Works and Highways Mark Villar.
“More or less 80% po ang utilization ng ating temporary facilities. Talagang palalakasin po natin [ang ating bed capacity]. We will increase some facilities na tataas po ang ating ICU beds at mga isolation facilities so that we can cope just in case magkaroon po ng surge [ng COVID-19 cases],” Galvez said.
(More or less or temporary facilities have a 80% utilization [rate]. We will strengthen [our bed capacity], we will increase some facilities to increase ICU beds and isolation facilities so that we can cope up in case there will be a surge in COVID-19 cases.)
According to Galvez, the NAP’s Phase II is influenced by ‘The Hammer and The Dance Theory’ of Tomas Pueyo where “The Hammer” refers to stringent measures on mitigation such as implementation of Enhanced Community Quarantines (ECQs), while “The Dance” refers to measures on suppression such as more flexible restrictions on economic activities and ‘tightening up’ when needed.
Galvez pointed out that another distinct feature of the NAP Phase II is the implementation of localized lockdowns based on zoning concepts developed by medical professionals and epidemiologists.
He said that placing a wide area such as a province or city under ECQ can bring its economy to a “tipping point” because it practically shuts down all business activity.
Localized lockdowns, on the other hand, are surgical and only affect a small area. Under this classification, those unaffected by the lockdown can still go to work and operate their businesses.
Through these localized lockdowns, LGUs can close down buildings, residences, sitios and barangays based on scientific granular data and with the concurrence of their respective Regional Interagency Task Force against COVID-19.
“Ang ginagawa po natin inaalalayan po natin ang ating mga LGUs on how to implement yung localized lockdowns. Nakikita po natin kasi na through localized lockdown we can protect our economy from suffering (What we do is we assist our LGUs on how to implement localized lockdown. We observed that through localized lockdowns, we can protect our economy from suffering),” explained Galvez.
He added that localized lockdowns also allow for more effective and efficient contact tracing, as target populations are contained.
According to a report of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), over 69,000 contact tracers have been deployed nationwide “to track down and manage close contacts, reduce the spread of infection, and to offer diagnostic, counselling and treatment to confirmed COVID-19 cases.”
Galvez emphasized anew that the NAP’s successful implementation will depend on the people’s compliance to minimum health standards, the capacity of the national government and the LGUs to effectively and manage cases, and most importantly, the unity of efforts among stakeholders.
Philippine Anti-COVID Czars
In order to effectively and efficiently carry out the NAP Phase II’s objectives, the IATF designated anti-COVID czars based on their expertise and experience. They will be under the supervision of the chief implementer.
Appointed as COVID-19 Chief Testing Czar is Sec. Vince Dizon who is responsible for scaling up the testing capacity of the country.
During a presser in Malacañang earlier this month, Dizon said the government expects to conduct at least 30,000 tests daily by the end of July, and at the rate, the country is ramping up its testing capacity, he is confident that goal is within reach.
“Kaya tuloy tuloy lang po tayo, sa tulong ng ating mga LGU at mga private sectors, at kailangang paigtingin pa natin ang pag-te-test dahil ‘yun lang ang paraan para mahanap natin ang mga may sakit sa ating mga komunidad at ma-isolate na natin sila para hindi na sila makahawa at mapabagal natin ang spread ng COVID-19,” said Dizon.
(We will continue through the help of our LGUs and private sector, and we need to intensify our testing because this is the only way for us to locate those who are affected in our communities, and we will isolate them for them not to infect others and for us to slow down the spread of COVID-19.)
Meanwhile, Sec. Villar, who was appointed as the Chief Isolation (Facility) Czar, has been leading the government’s efforts to establish isolation and quarantine facilities since the onset of the pandemic even before his latest appointment.
“Sa ngayon, madaragdagan pa (ang existing regional quarantine and isolation centers) dahil may kausap kaming mga local governments at magbibigay rin sila ng area para sa pagpapatayo ng additional centers. Target natin magpatayo ng additional 50 quarantine facilities and we can expect na malaki ang madadagdag sa ating kapasidad para sa ating COVID-19 patients. Asahan ninyo na walang tigil ang aming pagtatayo ng quarantine facilities para ma-kontrol natin ang pagkalat ng COVID-19,” said Villar during a recent interview.
(Right now, (existing regional quarantine and isolation centers) will increase because we have been communicating with local governments and they will provide areas for the construction of additional centers. We target to erect additional 50 quarantine facilities and we can expect additional bed capacities to occupy COVID-19 patients. Expect that we will not stop constructing quarantine facilities to control the spread of COVID-19.)
The DPWH reported that as of to date, the Mega Community Quarantine Facilities, Isolation Facilities, off-site dorminatories, and regional evacuation centers built by the agency nationwide has a total bed capacity 8,574.
Meanwhile, Baguio Mayor Benjie Magalong has been named as the nation’s Chief Tracing Czar. It is worthy to note that Baguio City has one of the most efficient contact tracing systems in the country. The government intends to replicate the city’s best practices across the country, especially in areas which are experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Magalong said that Baguio’s highly-experienced team of contact tracers will impart their knowledge and skills using the Contact Tracing E-System which is now being introduced to LGUs.
According to him, this strategy has three main components: a data collection tool for harmonized and digitized data collection; a Geographical Information System (GIS) platform to visualize the existence of potential infection in different areas and visualize COVID-19 data in many ways that reveal relationships, patterns, trends, and possible spread of infections; and an Analytical – Link Analysis Tool which shows different views on how an infected patient could infect others by tracing their daily activities, shows possible gaps, and creates more opportunities to track down close contacts of patients using a timeline.
But for this system to effectively work, Magalong emphasized the need to develop a ‘contact tracing ecosystem’ which consists of an army of interviewers, analysts, encoders, and technical support personnel.
Finally, newly-appointed Health Undersecretary of Health Dr. Leopold Vega is the nation’s Treatment Czar. His main tasks include expanding the bed capacity of hospitals for COVID-19 patients, increasing the health care personnel of public and private hospitals, and augmenting the medical supply needs of these health facilities.
To harmonize the response of public and private health institutions to critically-ill COVID-19 patients, Vega’s team launched a “One Hospital Command” which aims to formulate bed allocation guidelines and expand the health capacity of hospitals in the country.
“This is what we are trying to do, we are trying to collaborate with the different health facilities so that we will work as a network. There is a system to it rather than work independently with one another, we need a system and move as one,” he said during a recent Malacañang presser.
“Importante talaga na meron tayong Testing Czar, Tracing Czar, Isolation (Facility) Czar, at Treatment Czar. Sila ay nag-present ng kanilang mga plano para masunod po ang lahat ng nakikita nating mga stratehiya at ito po ay nakikita po natin na once these strategies have been implemented, bababa po (ang COVID-19 cases) at magkakaroon po tayo ng tinatawag na coping mechanisms para at least makaya po natin ang mga cases dito po sa COVID,” said Galvez.
(It is very important for us to have Testing Czar, Tracing Czar, Isolation (Facility) Czar, and Treatment Czar. They have presented their plans to implement our strategies and we look forward that once these strategies have been implemented, (COVID-19 cases) will decrease and we will have a coping mechanism [for] COVID-19 cases.)###